Patience Is the Key to Happiness (And How to Cultivate It)

It is essential that we learn to be patient with ourselves if we are to be happy, if we are to be trusted, if we are to be a welcome friend to others.
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For many, the most difficult person to be patient with is oneself. Our pride, persona and ego can feel disrupted and threatened every time we feel we have done less than our best. When ego gains this kind of unhealthy foothold, patience can quickly be lost and irrational thoughts, words, and actions can emanate before we have a chance to think, or so it seems. When this happens we can so easily rationalize that we deserve our own annoyance. We speak to ourselves with a level of disrespect that we would rarely, if ever, inflict on another.

The reality is that there are times when we are unskillful. We simply don't perform up to our own expectations, the expectations of others, or our own self-image. Perhaps we didn't make the big sale the company was counting on, or we let the steaks burn to a crisp on the grill (again), or we had a bad day on the tennis court. We might have spoken to a loved one or a colleague in a manner we later realized was unkind. We would like to believe we are more skillful in our endeavors; we envision ourselves as more spiritually advanced, to the point where those slip-ups wouldn't happen. Yet they do, and we can feel deeply disappointed and annoyed with ourselves.

There are endless possibilities for becoming irritable and impatient with self, and in a given moment they can all seem absolutely justified. Unfortunately, getting down on oneself rarely produces anything positive unless it happens to lead to determined resolve, which is difficult when the mind is bridled with self-criticism. Over time we see that just being impatient with ourselves rarely leads to anything beneficial and, in fact, the potential for harm can loom ominously close. We may feel stressed and in despair which is often accompanied by a loss of self-esteem. In extreme circumstances serious depression may follow.

There is no quick fix for this unfortunate, but fairly common, pattern because rooting out unskillful ways of thinking requires time to objectively observe the mind's activity. Effort balanced with patience and deep levels of honesty with self are necessary. For this, meditation is an ideal practice. In meditation we can bring to mind a situation that aroused anger. We then focus directly on that anger and its related thoughts, feelings, and physical sensations. There is no way to rush this process, we just stay with it. We keep returning to the thoughts, feelings, and sensations as they arise in the mind and body.

Some of us are impatient with our own body which is unfortunate because our relationship with the body we inhabit will last the entire length of our life. Wouldn't it make sense to become well-disposed toward that which is always, literally, around us? Without an attitude of graciousness, or at least acceptance, we may find ourselves living in a constant state of low-level dissatisfaction and impatience. Sometimes we may be too busy to notice, but other times we may feel downright disgusted with our appearance. With the commercial world bombarding us with reasons to be dissatisfied with our face and form, it can be difficult to appreciate the beauty of our being as is.

Comparing yourself to others is meaningless. Focus on the beauty of you. Let there be lightness about your being. Lightness makes space for patience. The end of the aging process will come soon enough so make the choice to enjoy it while you can. Wisdom evolves from seeing things as they really are and patience comes from accepting things as they are. If a situation is unacceptable and we can do something to change it, we should do so with compassion and wisdom. If not, it is wise to adjust and accept life's conditions. The body is of the nature to grow old; we cannot avoid aging. No matter what creams, drugs or surgeries we may bring upon ourselves, the body is aging. We have the opportunity to grow in wisdom as we age, or we can resist what is natural and struggle to the finish line.

Unhappiness does not slow the aging process. In fact, there is a great deal of evidence that suggests the opposite. We need to be patient with the body and with the reality of aging. Peace arises as we accept that which is.

It is essential that we learn to be patient with ourselves if we are to be happy, if we are to be trusted, if we are to be a welcome friend to others. It is deluding oneself to believe that we can be truly patient with others without first developing patience with ourselves. If we are to enjoy meaningful relationships, including the relationship with ourselves, patience must be developed to the extent that it is simply present and essentially unperturbed during trying situations. Among the qualities we can encourage within ourselves that will support our efforts are acceptance, compassion, joyfulness and generosity of spirit. We want to forgive our little imperfections, even as we strive to improve. They are the beauty marks that enhance the splendid beings that we are.

Here are a few thoughts and practices to help develop greater patience:

  • No one is simply an impatient person; human beings are much too complex for such simplicity. Even those more prone to losing patience have moments when they are extremely patient.
  • Begin by looking at your motivation -- why do you want to become more patient? Don't just assume you should. For a week, sit for five minutes a day and contemplate honestly why you want to be a more patient person. Your motivation will support you when you slip; build that motivation truthfully.
  • You will slip-up. It takes patience to develop patience. Support your efforts with kindness and compassion.
  • Never allow yourself to believe you are too busy to be more patient. Allow extra time whenever possible. Rushing makes us vulnerable to impatience.

Buy "Patience: The Art of Peaceful Living" here: Amazon, Barnes & Noble and IndieBound.

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